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How to Buy a Pinball Machine

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1. Waste quarters first
Buying a pinball machine is like buying a car—you’ve got a ton to choose from, so test-drive as many as possible. Don’t buy anything until you’ve spent some time behind the flippers. It’s a good idea to check the Internet Pinball Machine Database (IPDB.org) for specs and info.

2. Played-out proofing
No matter what, get a machine that challenges you. A few of my favorites are Flash Gordon, Safe Cracker, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mystic, and Doctor Who. These games may not be extremely collectible or hard to find, but they’re all “player’s games,” and they’ll keep you entertained. Now you just have to focus on not spraining your fingers.

3. Check under the hood
Brighter colors such as red, orange, and yellow can fade if the previous owner kept the machine too close to a window, so eyeball the artwork carefully. Open up the coin box and take a whiff, too—if it smells like an ashtray, it probably lived in a smoky bar for years. This could make your game room stink...or fit right in.

4. Go state-of-the-art or old-school?
There are two basic machine types: pre-1978 electromechanical machines with ringing chimes and scoring reels that spin, and post-1979 solid-state rigs with digital displays and soundboards. Older games break often, but repairs are easy. Modern games are durable, but a bitch to fix.

5. Purchasing power
Ready to plunk down some cash? Unless you’re taking the machine from a dead neighbor’s next of kin, seek out a legit dealer like worldofpinball.com. You can also log on to sites like pinballnews.com, pinballreviews.com, and pingamejournal.com to see what’s out there and read reviews from hard-core pinball junkies.